As you set out to begin your life as a college student money management may be low on the list of things you are looking forward to. But if you do not have a plan for managing your money you could end up with some undesirable surprises at the end of the semester. College is traditionally the time in most people’s lives where they learn how to stretch a dollar, and really go without.

Understanding the value of a dollar is essential but learning where to allocate those dollars takes a little more finesse. Below are some tips and tricks to create a budget that is reflective of this life stage, and will get you not only excited about building a better relationship with your finances but allow you to still live the college life while saving for the future.

Consider Your Debts

Focusing on what happens after graduation before you even begin your first class may seem like the antithesis of this article but trust me, they’re not mutually exclusive. If you’re looking to take out student loans with a private lender to pay for your education, it is important to understand what paying them back is going to look like. An alternative to consider is to establish a plan along with your parents. For example, a Parent PLUS loan can be taken out by your parents in order to help you pay for college, and once you start earning a certain income, Parent PLUS loan refinancing can be a suitable option, as it can be transferred directly to you with lower interest rates and better terms.

It is not realistic to expect to be able to save to repay them while you are a broke college student, but a budget will help you not to blow through your savings, and as you become more practiced with following the guidelines you set for yourself, you might even be able to stash away a few bucks so you don’t have to start repayment from zero.

Really research lenders to find the perfect student loan for you. Pay attention to interest rates, perks, and pitfalls of using a cosigner, and favorable repayment terms. After you sign on the dotted line it is too late to ask questions, so don’t be shy and speak up.

Keep Categories Realistic

A budget is simply a combination of where your money needs to go, and how much of it can go there. When you are creating your list, be realistic about your expenses. You are going to have a social life, and you are going to want to have some fun money available to you, so add it in.

College is meant to be an enjoyable time and you will not feel that joy if you misappropriate your funds and either have to say no to everything, or can’t make ends meet with the important things like tuition and housing, because you accidentally spent all your money on pizza. Thinking about all this ahead of time will give you a lot of mental freedom too since you know going into your first day what you can and cannot afford, it will help you to avoid building bad habits right from the start.

Take Advantage of Every Bargain

The economy understands that money is tight for students, and it is so common to qualify for discounts on almost anything simply by showing proof of enrollment. Seek out places that offer them and take full advantage. Develop an eye for a deal and challenge yourself to never pay full price for something.

The extra effort can save you tons of money in the long run. Used textbooks, free food on campus, student activities, and clubs with no membership fees are all good examples of how to trim down your spending. Building the right college budget for yourself that is personalized and specific to your goals and needs is going to help you learn about your money, your financial habits, and how you can change and perfect them as you continue to grow.